Originally published on GV Wire, Oct 23, 2018.
Here’s something I believe people on both sides of the parks tax debate can agree on: We’ve got miles to go to make Fresno a vibrant, safe, and prosperous city for all.
For decades, our elected leaders have struggled to make ends meet while facing annual budget challenges in which there are no good options.
Then, every so often, a movement is born to push us incrementally ahead. And so we’ve decided, on a countywide basis, to tax ourselves to improve our roads and our libraries, and to transform the Fresno Chaffee Zoo into a must-see family attraction.
But now it’s time to take a break from well-intentioned efforts focused on a single need. Instead, we should take a top-to-bottom inventory of the problems Fresno must tackle to realize our potential as a world-class city and the shining anchor of the Central Valley.
There’s a Better Way than Measure P
We can’t afford a parks tax on its own. We’re better than this.
Clearly, we’ve got work to do. Homelessness is devastating to our community. We need improved public safety, along with more and better-maintained parks and trails. I am sure that many of you have additional ideas about what must be accomplished to make Fresno the city we want it to be.
This is one of the reasons why I am voting “no” on Measure P, the ballot proposal to raise our sales tax by 3/8 of a cent. Another reason is Measure P locks in the sales tax increase for 30 years with the funds flowing exclusively to parks, trails, and cultural arts.
Three decades is a long time. Do you know what Fresno’s needs will be in 2039 or 2049? I don’t. And neither does anyone else.
I recognize that voting “no” on P is just the first step in Fresno’s rebirth. A path to greatness must also be identified, and this is the one I propose.
Put together a broad spectrum of community residents and have them identify Fresno’s most pressing needs. Then assemble a team of financial experts from the community to audit the city’s budget, financial records, and service levels.
Other Ways to Raise Parks Funding
Meanwhile, we should also look for innovative ways to raise revenue.
For example, we could sell naming rights to our parks. We also could expand upon the adopt-a-park program. There should be an opportunity for a restaurant or two to be built along the San Joaquin River trails. And we must scour state and federal grant opportunities.
When the panels have finished their work, bring them both together to suggest a broad-based revenue source to fill the gaps over the next 15 years. Then put that proposal to the voters.
15 Years, Not 30 Years
Why 15 years?
We live in a fast-moving, ever-changing world. Nothing is static. Tastes, needs, and desires change in the blink of an eye as technology relentlessly transforms our lives.
In addition, the two biggest causes of Fresno’s budget challenges are our underperforming economy and the debt kicked down the road by City Hall.
I am fully confident that the forward-thinking leaders at our local universities, community colleges, and school districts, in concert with their trustees and teachers, will produce the high-quality graduates needed to shift the Fresno economy into overdrive.
In addition, Fresno’s municipal debt load — barring undisciplined spending by future mayors and city councils — will be off the books in the early 2030s.
With many tens of millions of dollars of debt retired and thousands of high-skilled graduates staying here in the Valley and significantly elevating our workforce, our General Fund finally will be healthy.
Fresno also will be well on the way to becoming one of America’s top cities, a great place to raise a family, go to school, recreate, and soak in the cultural arts.
If at that time, we still have pressing needs, we repeat the process I’ve described. Ask residents to identify the most pressing needs, audit City Hall’s books and service levels, hunt for alternative revenue streams, and put a new proposal on the ballot.
Fresno Needs a New Inclusive Path Forward
We’re not going to get where we want to go by repeating what we’ve done in the past. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what Measure P does.
It’s time to embrace a new model — an inclusive bringing together of residents that uses strategic, innovating thinking and accelerates us into the future.
To protect taxpayers, this new model must include annual third-party audits so residents clearly understand how their dollars are spent and the results they are getting.
This new model will mark Fresno as a leader among cities grappling with big challenges such as adequately funding public safety, parks, homelessness reduction, and the arts.
Remember, voting “no” on Measure P is not a vote against parks!